Checking the Sire List...Twice by Eric Mitchell

 (Originally published in the December 18, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.

By Eric Mitchell - @EJMitchellKy on Twitter

By Eric Mitchell
’Tis the season to debate sire lists, and nothing stirs the pot like a close race on the leading general sires’ or leading freshman sires’ lists.

This year there is a close contest on the general sires’ list between Giant’s Causeway and Distorted Humor—two outstanding stallions separated by $189,003 in progeny earnings as of Dec. 13. Now $189,000 may not seem that close, but the difference between the progeny earnings of both sires can be attributed largely to one horse: a grade I-winning steeplechase horse named Arcadius.

[Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the leading steeplechase horse as Rite of Passage.

The Blood-Horse has for decades included steeplechase earnings from North America and Europe in its leading sires’ lists. To many in the industry today this may seem outrageous because producing jumpers is not the end goal of most Thoroughbred breeders. Steeplechases are, however, Thoroughbred races with sanctioned meets and graded and black-type stakes races. The Breeders’ Cup supported a championship steeplechase from 1986 through 1994 then transferred the event to the National Steeplechase Association. An Eclipse Award is still given every year to the country’s best steeplechase horse, and many trainers and owners who race on the flat have been making a nice income off steeplechase races as well. To date in 2010, trainers Jonathan Sheppard and Tom Voss have won $809,930 and $590,400, respectively, in steeplechases. Owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey have earned $223,500.

Steeplechase earnings in the sire lists of the past have not been much of an issue because there are significantly fewer races and typically lower purses. What we have this year is the relatively rare occurrence of a top-notch steeplechaser being sired by a North American-based sire and winning serious money. It is not unlike conversations we’ve had with breeders in the past about a good North American-bred juvenile, usually by a freshman sire standing in the caller’s stud barn, who has been burning up the turf in Japan and yet whose earnings are not included on the list. The Blood-Horse has never included Japan and Hong Kong earnings because the disproportionately higher purses in those countries skew the progeny earnings list. Even when The Blood-Horse changed to a list based on Northern Hemisphere racing data in 2007, instead of basing the list on racing data from North America, select European countries, and the United Arab Emirates, the earnings from Japan and Hong Kong were left out. The sire lists, however, do count Japanese and Hong Kong stakes winners.

The argument for continuing to leave Japan and Hong Kong off is being questioned more and more, particularly because the sire lists include earnings from the Dubai World Cup program. Progeny earnings have included UAE races since July 1996 when the International Cataloguing Standards Committee recognized the UAE as a Part II country and the World Cup races all earned black-type status. When the new earnings hit the general sires’ list in that year’s July 27 edition, Private Terms jumped from 65th on the list to 12th because his son Soul of the Matter had finished second in the then $4 million Dubai World Cup earlier in the year.

Several breeders in recent months have told us the exceptions on the sire lists no longer make sense, given the globalization of racing. Create a Northern Hemisphere list that includes everything—all stakes winners, all earnings, no exceptions, we’ve been told. Others still want to put the brakes on Japanese earnings.

Is there a perfect sire list? No, which is why publishes 15 different North American and international lists daily (which doesn’t count the lists published for 60 different states and regions). But the question always comes down to what should make up the leading sires’ list. What criteria best determine the industry’s top sire? Changing times require the sire lists be regularly evaluated for their relevancy. In the 1950s, the lists only used to count winning earnings. So now its time to look again. Should the leading general sires’ list include everything or should it only focus on North America and exclude foreign racing? There are some lines we wouldn’t cross, for example, blending Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere data. These are different markets with racing seasons that don’t mesh well when combined. But beyond that, the floor is now open.


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If a stallion has pure bred (no Quarter Horses) runners, running somewhere in the world, then those earnings should be counted.  Simply saying Japanese purses skew the earnings is a joke.  How do we look to Austrailian breeders who see our huge purses....compared to you think they say...ah, keep those American earnings out of our pools.  No...they count them.  Japaneses purses should be what we aspire to, not discriminate against.  Once again,,,,,the good ole boy way of thinking keeps the American racing scene from being the model for the rest of the world.  If we allow Dubai, then we should allow Japan...simple as that!!!

14 Dec 2010 2:33 PM

Pardon my ignorance but I don't understand why the Northern and Southern Hemispheres racing are so different.  Please educate me!

14 Dec 2010 2:47 PM
Donut Jimmy

How about two lists which include everything; north,south,east and west.

One list would be gross numbers, converted to dollars or euros. The second list would be the same, with each country's earnings being multiplied by a factor to be determined by average purse in that country.

14 Dec 2010 3:18 PM
K De Silva

I would like  suggest we include all earnings regardless of where the horse races or type of race, and use Average earnings per starter to determine Champion sire.

This will neutralise any "disproportinate" purse or racehorse.

14 Dec 2010 4:07 PM

If the Bloodhorse can include lower European purses, especially from the UK and Ireland, then it can include Japanese purses. Why should the Japanese be penalized for having their house in order?!?

14 Dec 2010 4:21 PM

Rite of Passage is an accomplished flat horse, most of his earnings come from winning the Group One Ascot Gold Cup, a flat race, looks like shoddy research?

14 Dec 2010 4:31 PM

this question has nothing to do

with this blog but there was no

where else to ask it...what is

happening with Life at Ten...

why is this investigation taking so

long... is the horse ok now... if

so why hasn't she raced again...

14 Dec 2010 4:44 PM

Mahuba, the trickiness with the Southern Hemisphere is that it runs on a "split year" relative to the Northern Hemisphere.

Spring racing in Australia gets cranked up in October (our April seasonally). So once we roll over into 2011 in the Northern Hemisphere, we are still in the 2010 Southern Hemisphere racing year.

If we integrate S. Hemisphere racing into the N. Hemisphere calendar year, we would stop including S. Hemisphere earnings on Jan. 1. Any earnings after Jan. 1 would be credited to the previous racing year. The previous year's sires lists wouldn't really be complete until June.

Blended results also would mean  during the N. Hemisphere spring we would have second-crop N. Hemisphere sires still getting credit for 2-year-old winners and stakes winners in the Southern Hemisphere.

Blending the results also confuses percentages of winners from foals and stakes winners from foals. We have to break them out separately and look at individual racing season's to get an accurate picture.

Even the farms that shuttle stallions to Australia have told us the hemispheres should be treated separately.

14 Dec 2010 5:01 PM

In the overall scheme of things, I do agree that it will skew results by including the Japanese/HK earnings. From a statistical point of view, there are lots of factors influencing purses even if earnings were just in N. America. Where the horses are running: East or West Coast, states with racinos. If a stallion produces consistently better fillies than colts. How many mares he breeds per year. How selective his managers are in booking mares. The list of factors goes on and on. What it comes down to is who is using it and what they prefer and how they'll use it in their business. If they market locally/statewide, throughout N.America or globally. Several lists are probably the best way to go. Everyone will have a different opinon on which list is the best.

14 Dec 2010 5:20 PM

Determining leading sire is a little like the recent debates over horse of the year.  The only real relevance is to historians of the breed.  Whether a stallion is first, second or third his quality as a sire is difficult to dispute.  Hence, what is included or excluded is really a test of what direction the breed is taking.

Considering the considerable drafts of top drawer racing fillies that have recently been exported to Japan--let alone the years of other purchases that have gone there--is this exclusion in fact fostering a continuing blind spot among North American breeders?

The question seems to me to rest on the conditions of ownership and restrictions on access to the Japanese turf.  These have been relaxed in recent years, but so long as access to these purses is restricted to nationals or those able to find locals able to stand as representative of their interests, it seems that these earnings come under manifestly different conditions than other Northern Hemisphere earnings.

So while the principle of inclusion of East Asian earnings seems compelling, inclusion may still await the conditions of the turf there coming into line with other jurisdictions.

14 Dec 2010 5:27 PM


You are correct. Giant's Causeway's top earner by steeplechase earnings for 2010 to date is Arcadius, who won the Helen Haskell Sampson Hurdle Stakes (NSA-I) at Monmouth Park, and finished second in the New York Turf Writers Cup Steeplechase H. (NSA-I) and second in the A. P. Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase S. (NSA-II), both at Saratoga. He's earned $124,500 this year in steeplechases.

14 Dec 2010 5:31 PM

Japanese purses should be included. Does anyone know the proportion of Japanese mares booked to American stallions?

14 Dec 2010 6:49 PM

I say add Asia. My problem with including japan is they dont' allow foreign owners; but then if you are to exclude them for that then all restricted races would also have to be thrown out.

14 Dec 2010 6:58 PM

The answer seems elementary to me.  The Kentucky stallion managers and sale companies are thrilled to have the Japanese and other foreign interests buy the offspring of american stallions for huge profits.  If you include those purchases in the stallion sales totals then you include the earnings of those sale horses in annual earnings totals.  Otherwise, lets pretend those horses were not purchased at american sales and just eliminate their statistics across the board.

14 Dec 2010 8:55 PM

I have always thought that lists based solely on earnings, while interesting, are routinely distorted by exceptional progeny's performance. For myself I have always favored the AEI as the most unbiased method of comparison. What is great is that we all have our favorite lists and opinions, different view on rankings, but come together in agreement on the great sires.

14 Dec 2010 10:58 PM

I say leave Japan out until they accept the rest of the world. With the exception of a very few races, only horses owned by Japanese owners are permitted to race. Zenyatta, for example, would only have been welcomed in Japan for a handful of races (Japan Cup, Japan Cup Dirt, and I believe only a handful more). They exclude the rest of the world, thus making the competition other place does this that I am aware of. This is why they are in part III of the stud book (unless that has changed recently)

14 Dec 2010 11:03 PM

I agree with Donut Jimmy.  Have one "pure" absolute earnings list inclusive of all (Thoroughbred) sources, and then have a list with "normalized" earnings.  It's not perfect, but the current system of leaving out Japan and Hong Kong earnings, but including Dubai, is peculiar and unfair.

15 Dec 2010 12:32 AM
Dawn in MN

These are absolutely unqualified comments.  I'm just an ignorant fan.  

If the earnings from the "inflated currency" races were included, would that contribute to the loss of top competitors in the U.S.?

Would horses that would normally race here defect to those races in an attempt to drive up the stallions earnings?

It seems to me that the competitive nature of the industry is in a fragile balance.  This topic has made me question the validity of the earnings that are "counted."  

Regarding the Life At Ten debacle it isn't that far off topic...just another nationally televised black eye on the sport in the U.S. It doesn't sound like they're focusing on anyone but the trainer and the jockey.  Whatever they conclude, the fact that there were no samples drawn, or lab tests performed is so freaking suspicious...good going folks.

15 Dec 2010 5:57 AM

Earnings list are the least impressive indicator of a stallion to me...when grade 3's are $750G's adn 1 Million and multiple Gr1's are $150G's it is flawed.

I prefer runners-winners-stakes-graded-grade 1's.

Not counting steeplechasers because some don't like it? To heck with them, obviously many do...less slaughter house TB's, too.

15 Dec 2010 6:05 AM

Maybe you already do this. Why not just add a list for all earnings worldwide for each calendar year, if you have the information. The public will know what it means.

You do not even need to to give it high publicity. Just tell the users where to find it.The reason is, some people would have this information even if they do not get it from the Bloodhorse. An Excel spreadsheet can do wonders.  

15 Dec 2010 8:12 AM
Lulu Todd

Rite of Passage won a Group 1 FLAT race in Europe, not a steeplechase race.  You should get your facts right!  Arcadius is Giant's best steeplechaser. Rite of Passage has raced on flat and fences but his Group 1 came on the flat.  To say Giant doesn't deserve his accolades is ridiculous.  His top earner was retired in April (Eskendereya).  He would have won the Triple Crown.  Giant is A GIANT as far as sires go. Your premise is wrong, sir.

15 Dec 2010 9:58 AM
Ryan Brady

Robert. The difference between Northern and Southern Hemispheres is the seasons of racing, and of course the all might $, in which The Southern Hemisphere doesn't quite have half as much as the Northern Hemisphere has.  Just simple economics , that's all.

15 Dec 2010 10:36 AM

I am not sure about Japan or the Southern Hemisphere but I absolutely think steeplechase earnings should count. These horses show tremendous courage and athleticism and a level of endurance that we need to keep in the breed.

15 Dec 2010 11:00 AM
Pedigree Ann

Which is a better stallion - one who has dozens of SWs but sired hundreds of foals, or one with only dozens of foals and fewer SWs SWs but with a higher percentage of SWs and high earners? The current method of listing rewards quantity over quality.

No matter what else is concocted, a North American only list must be available. Many US owners and breeders don't care how a stallion's get perform under racing conditions in foreign countries. They race in the US, breed for the US market; they want to know which stallions' get perform best in US racing conditions.

15 Dec 2010 12:03 PM
Horses Rule

to nmh - I agree - I have read nothing about Life AT Ten's condition, etc.  In this case silence is not golden.

Does anybody know anything?

15 Dec 2010 2:04 PM

The general sire list should include sires from all over the world.  Racing is globalized, and not including other countries would be an error in my opinion.  

I also think other lists should rank stallions strictly by percentage of wins, stakes wins, and graded stakes wins.  This would help better determine the quality of a sire, not his quantity.  Of course total earnings have the possibility of being much higher for stallions covering 200+ mares and shuttling to the southern hemisphere.  

15 Dec 2010 8:26 PM

horses rule:

there is an article in the current

bloodhorse mag.  but it gives about

the same info  as here.. i wish

they would give us a complete update on her... she is too good

to be just written off..

15 Dec 2010 11:24 PM

I would like to see a list of how long each sires offspring last on the track.  How many broke down as 2 y/o's, how many are still running at 5-6 yos, etc.  I know the information is available but it is quite time consuming to find and compile.  I breed for  soundness  and longevity.  As to the earnings, it doesn't have to be difficult; report all earnings earned anywhere there is sanctioned racing.  In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter if all of the horses are owned by the same entity, a dollar earned is a dollar earned and a win is still a win.  But that is just my humble opinion.

16 Dec 2010 7:27 AM

Why not have a spreadsheet instead of a list?  Then people can use their own criteria to generate whatever list they want.

16 Dec 2010 8:54 AM

Lulu Todd,

You are correct Arcadius was Giant's Causeway's leading steeplechase horse.

While the horse mas misidentified, the point remains that steeplechase earnings will affect who ends up the leading sire of the year. I wasn't arguing that Giant's Causeway didn't deserve to be the leading sire. I was explaining why The Blood-Horse has traditionally included steeplechase results in the leading general sires' list. We have heard from some in the industry that steeplechases should not be included, and I felt this provided a good opportunity to discuss what criteria goes into a leading sires' list and whether the time has come to make some changes.

I would welcome your suggestions.

16 Dec 2010 9:33 AM

Not precisely the question asked, but definitely impacts sire lists.  I love all the state and regional sire lists that the Bloodhorse runs, but cannot understand why there is no list for Puerto Rico.  PR-breds are included in the American Stud Book, and the races there are run for U.S. dollars.  PR stallions do appear on first, second, and third crop sire lists.  So why not a list of PR leading sires just like you do for all the states and Canada?  I presume it would be an easy addition - just add one more jurisdiction to the list you use to pull the state-by-state data.

16 Dec 2010 10:47 AM
C Bea

Leading Sire Lists as they've been presented historically have been archaic ever since the advent of 100+ mare books. Giant's Causeway is hardly the best sire out there. He's good, very good perhaps but he's also been the beneficiary of huge books and GREAT mares. Give his full brother Freud the same books and I suggest he's the better sire. I digress.

Sire lists as Bloodhorse publishes them and Equibase track them work against the long term interests of our sport and may in fact contribute to the weaker TB that we now breed.

16 Dec 2010 11:19 AM

All earnings in all races for a sires' progeny should be included.  It should not matter where the the horse runs, only the money won.  For quality purposes, stakes winners (black type, graded, and grade 1) should be included.

16 Dec 2010 2:28 PM

Man Giant's Causeway is one of the best horses I have ever seen! how old is he?

16 Dec 2010 7:35 PM

I think the answer lies in how these sire lists are used and by whom.  A commercial breeder will probably look at the list to see which stallion will produce the best race horse with the best return when selling the offspring, but then the stallion fee may be too prohibitive.  Then again, if the stallion doesn't have the pedigree then there are certainly other factors that come into play, so in the end it really doesn't matter whether we include Japan or Dubai or Australia or whatever country's stallions, other than that the lists may get too long and not very practical for the general breeder.  It would be cost prohibitive for most to send a mare from the US to Japan to be bred, but may be that is why they call it the Sports of Kings.

16 Dec 2010 7:58 PM

Top stallions such Giant’s Causeway, Gran Slam, Hennesy,Berstein,  etc have served hundreds of mares in Southern Hemisphere countries and that is a powerful reason to include So. Hemisphere races and performers in a stallion statistical report.

16 Dec 2010 8:15 PM

we all know that the japanese putses are way inflated...can we define a "pures value index" we have here in the US?...and then include it all into start with the standard purse value index of "all Maiden Special Weight" class & then go above.

16 Dec 2010 11:58 PM
Angel L

I agree with LanceS. We need to add Puerto Rico to the state sire list.

17 Dec 2010 6:58 AM
Your only friend

Have not heard on "Life  at Ten"....reason.....HIGH PROFILE TRAINER AND RIDER......LAWYERS ARE WORKING BEHIND THE SCENE.Commissions/Lawyers never could do anything on time.How many weeks have gone by......GIMMIE A BREAK!

17 Dec 2010 7:13 PM
Kristen Ohler

So C Bea thinks Giant's Causeway is just an average sire.  He was second on the general sires list in 2008, first in 2009 and now first in 2010. He is the number 1 leading sire by worldwide earnings in 2010.  He has 19 individual Grade/Group 1 winners lifetime.  I think Freud is a wonderful sire.  He also was 1 for 12 on the track earning $44,016. He ran 3rd in a stakes race.  Giant's Causeway was 9 for 13 with 4 seconds.  Never out of the money. 12 of his races were all in stakes and he won 6 group 1's. He earned $3,078.989 as in million.  Pretty sure with the same mares Freud coudn't touch the Giant.  And for the person who wanted to know Giant's Causeway will be 14 the first of the year.  He was born in '97 and he stands 16.1 hands

19 Dec 2010 5:12 PM

I think earnings is a poor gauge. Races should be graded based on the records of the competition, other horses in the race, and the competition they faced. Other factors should be graded and included too. Running style, dependability, consistancy etc. Even after all that, you can't predict when a freak like Secretariat will come along.

20 Dec 2010 6:15 PM
C Bea

Kristen, Giant's Causeway is overrated is my point. I said I think he's a good sire just not a great sire. Take a look at what his book of mares has done when bred to someone else. They produce a better foal than they do with him.

I applaud people who look beyond the sire lists as they currently exist. Celebrating a stallion based ONLY on total progeny earnings is a disservice to our industry and leads to the recognition of stallions unworthy of progressing our breed positively.

27 Dec 2010 3:18 PM
Terri Z

When I think of horses going to Japan I think of how poor Ferdinand ended up in the slaughterhouse. And thank goodness for Jerry Moss's (Zenyatt's owner) generousity, so that several horses have been saved from slaugherhouses in Japan.

And I was saddened to see that Frank Stronach sold Ginger Punch to Japan. At least Three Chimneys has a binding agreement for the horses they sent to Japan to be sent back to the USA for their retirement.

Why not stop selling horses to the Japanse and to Hong Kong until they stop slaughtering horses?

28 Dec 2010 2:32 PM

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